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The cost to acquire content

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BY TOM KEER

It had been a while since I checked my voicemail and a bunch of messages had accumulated. For the most part they were mundane, but tucked in the middle was a pleasant surprise; would I like to go on a waterfowl/pheasant hunt familiarization (FAM) trip during prime time in North Dakota? Lemme think about that … yes.
The call was from an old friend who was hosting writers for a five-night four-day all-inclusive package. I called him back immediately.
“I’ve got everything taken care of on the expense side,” he said.
“All you need to do is get here.”
“You’re not covering airfare?” I asked.
“All you need to do is to get here. I’ll cover everything else.”
“Ugh, ok.”
“The only other cost is a gratuity.”
“Not a problem. What percent?”
“Well, we went to a resort service fee this year.”
“What’s that?”
“The resort service fee is a tip pool that gets spread around to the entire staff. So we break it down to the customary guides, food and beverage staff and housekeeping. We also spread the love to the entire agricultural team. They are integral in making our hunting great, so we figured they should get part of the tips as well.”
“Totally agree. What kind of numbers are we talking about?”
“We usually charge guests 20 percent of the total trip, but for writers we’re only charging 15 percent. All in the cost for the trip is $5000 so your 15 percent tip would run $750. Are you in?”
After a few days to think about it, my answer was a regretful “no.”
This scenario has become increasingly common as venues cut marketing budgets. One way places strengthen their own profits and losses is by transferring expenses to outdoor communicators. That means if you’re not careful you can end up spending more acquiring content than you can make turning around and selling it.
The best way to avoid losing money on a FAM trip is to rough out expenses and your projected profits before you agree to go.
Here’s an example of how I worked through my decision to forego the North Dakota trip.
Rough Expenses Out:

  • Gas and tolls to the airport, roundtrip: $75
  • Parking for 6 days: $210
  • Gratuity: The total trip retailed at $5,000 and my 15 percent gratuity based on that price would run me $750
  • Non-resident small game license: $100
  • Habitat stamp: $17
  • State waterfowl stamp: $5
  • Non-resident state-wide waterfowl license: $150
  • Airfare: $1200 round trip
  • Per diem meals while traveling: $25/day or $50/round trip.

So my total projected costs were $2557.
Forecasted Revenue:
I next tried to predict what kind of revenue I’d generate from the trip. I came up with five print and six online outlets that might be interested in content. Then, I reached back out to my host to learn what other writers were attending. Three writers were on the masthead of the print magazines and three were on the masthead of the online publications I’d brainstormed. That left me with two print options and three online potential buyers.
I contacted editors of these outlets to determine their level of interest. One editor of a print magazine was ho-hum about a story, while the editor of my remaining option was exited and offered me an assignment of 2500 words and 10 images. All of the online publications were interested and they were all looking for about 750 words and 5 images.

  • Print magazine with images: $1000
  • Digital magazines with images: $500

So my total projected revenue was $1500.
Hobby vs. Business:
The difference between a hobby and a business is that a business makes money; in this instance I would have lost over $1,000. There is no question that shooting decoying pintails and following English setters on point would have been fun, but consistently losing money on reporting assignments won’t sustain a profitable freelance writing business.
Momma didn’t raise a quitter, so here are a few final options to consider before you say no to any trip that requires out-of-pocket costs.

  • Check with a state or county travel and tourism board to see if they will pay for your transportation costs.
  • Contact manufacturing companies for product to demo. While the destination market may be saturated by other members in your group, you might be able to secure placement and a new revenue stream for gear reviews.
  • Research other story ideas that might come from that similar region. It could be a vineyard for a wine magazine, a new restaurant for a culinary publication, or a personality for a general interest outlet. Think outside the box, because if you’re an outdoors communicator you’ve got many different stories within one locale. You’ve just got to find them. ♦

—Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines and owns The Keer Group, a full-service, outdoor marketing company. Visit www.thekeergroup.com or www.tomkeer.com
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